Poem The Longest Night by Jan Richardson
Reading: Matthew 1:1-25
Reading: Luke 2:1-7
A Christmas Eve Reflection
Happy last day of Hanukkah, which ended just before 5 pm today and Merry Christmas Eve!
As we gather tonight, we take part in something human beings have been doing for thousands of years – listening to ancient stories that tell us something of importance about our people, we have lit candles, and we have sung to mark these historical, spiritual events and then the turning of the year.
We are story-telling people – we have the gift to hear, tell and remember stories, transforming them over the years so that we continue to find meaning in them hundreds and thousands of years after the actual events.
Maybe it is the tradition in your families to tell and to hear the story of the birth on birthdays. I know my mother told my story to me every year. So tonight we hear two stories about the birth of Jesus.
From Matthew we hear about Jesus’ lineage, his genealogy. In the Hebrew Scriptures there are numerous genealogies and they are a way that time was marked, leaders were placed within their particular time and place. For Matthew’s community which was a predominately Jewish community who followed the teachings of Jesus, it was critical that Jesus be placed in the line of King David. Matthew uses the ancient tool of genealogy to link Jesus to Joseph and Joseph all the way back. Matthew has the holy family traveling after the birth to flee Herod. Matthew uses dreams to let oseph know it is ok – like Jacob’s dream and Abraham’s dream.
Luke, on the other hand, has a slightly different tale to tell. Luke’s community is more of a mix of Jews and Gentiles. He needs to tie Jesus’ birth to King David and prophesies about Nazareth. Yet Luke also wants Jesus’ birth to be about a gift for the Gentiles too – so it is Luke that we have the Roman Census and the message to the shepherds in a field. Mary and Joseph travel before the birth, seeking a place to stay and finding none stay in a stable. Jesus did not come for the rich and the powerful, but the poor and the outcast.
One child, one great teacher and two different stories; neither Matthew or Luke was concerned about the actual events of the birth of Jesus – they had another purpose. Their purpose was to tell their communities something about this teacher who had come and changed their lives. Whose message of love, of justice, of inclusivity, of loving God and loving your neighbor had transformed them and has the potential to transform the world. Each told the story of what a blessing, like in our opening poem, came into the world.
Each child, each of us, comes into this world and each is holy, each is made in the image and likeness of the divine, each has inherent worth and dignity. Our Unitarian Universalist faith affirms over and over again the sacredness of each person. This comes deeply from the Jewish faith, which values life over law – if a law is broken such as working on the Sabbath in order to save a life it is not a breaking of the law. It comes also from the Christian faith which affirms that God’s love is for all and Jesus’ message was not just for the world.
Tonight we remember that each night a child is born is a holy night including the night of our own births. Each child, each person is a blessing! I think it is too easy as we move through life to forget that each of us is a child of the holy, that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. I look out at your faces and in each of them I see the holy; I see a gift for the world. So tonight when you are home, maybe when you are getting ready for bed, take a moment, look at your face in the mirror. See that face as a loving parent would see your face, look into that face as you have looked into your own children’s faces. Remember, remember on this night where we celebrate birth and re-birth, renewal, peace that you too are precious, valuable, a miracle. Regardless of your own birth story - you are a child of life, a part of the great on-going story and history of this world. You are a blessing, a blessing the world has been waiting for.
As you look around you during this holiday, look into the eyes of those you have gathered with – friends, parents, children, spouses, partners, cousins, aunts and uncles and see in their faces that divine spark, that spirit of life and love. Jesus says Love one another as I have loved you” Love one another! Love abundantly, love generously, love with your eyes and arms wide open.
Then take that love into a world that needs it, that needs our healing, our help. We are not here just for ourselves but to do our part to uncover and create more paradise and less suffering, more heaven and less hell. A world that is waiting, holding its breath, clutching its hands, has darkness around its heart – a world that needs each of us to be the one to guide this world and its people through the dark, that knows the roads, the resting places and that we need each other to make the journey, to receive the blessing, to make it through that longest night.
As we leave this place, let us remember where we came from, the stories of our ancestors and our birth. Remember that each child is holy even you and I. Share your love with both those in your family and community but also with the world. Be reminded that the birth of one teacher over 2,000 years ago still carries meaning in our world today … would it not be a real miracle if we each lived as though we too would impact the world 2,000 years from now?
I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas
and a very Happy New Year!